Review: Terra Nova's 'Lettice' brims with energy
Share with others:
Remember Prince Charles? At one time, the lad was devoting his time to urban concerns, even visiting Pittsburgh, but it was his worries about the decline of London architecture that caught the eye of playwright Peter Shaffer.
The fellow Brit, flush with the successes of "Equus" and "Amadeus," was inspired by the prince's concerns to write "Lettice & Lovage," a Broadway hit in 1990 with Maggie Smith as Lettice, a single woman of a certain age whose melodramatic theatrics got her into trouble with Lotte Schoen, administrator at Britain's Preservation Trust.
Both despise the modern, Lettice the dull "mereness" of life, and Lotte, the dullness of London's new buildings. They meet after Lettice is discovered elaborating on the boring history of Fustian Hall where she gives tours. (The first of many tortuous Shaffer gags, fustian meaning "affected.")
Lotte fires the fustian thespian, but in a fit of remorse, looks her up in her drab basement flat. Several flagons of Lettice's homemade grog laced with the herb lovage later, Lotte is baring her soul to the flamboyant student of English history, particularly executions of royalty. That specialty will provide the powder for the play's fizzling highlight in the third act.
Terra Nova Theatre Group in Washington, Pa., demonstrates both elan and energy in mounting this word-heavy and more minor of Mr. Shaffer's output on the sturdy shoulders of regional veterans Susan Martinelli as Lettice and Allison Cahill as Lotte. They've also pitched in on props (Ms. Martinelli) and costumes (Ms. Cahill) and they have a jolly good time with the playwright's ornate language and knack for dispensing oodles of obscure English and even French facts.
Mark Yochum does a nice turn in several roles including that of Lettice's solicitor named Bardolph whom she picked because he had the same name as Falstaff's companion. Julianne Avolio wrings laughs as an obsequious assistant.
Director Mark Stevenson keeps the words a'coming, but even brisk direction can't speed up a play that's simply too long for the payoff. At three acts and 21/2 hours, "Lettice & Lovage" can't find enough jokes to sustain itself. And there are jokes, but they don't cover the play's insubstantial plot.
First Published June 23, 2012 12:00 am